On Monday night the Pittsburgh Steelers play host to the Kansas City Chiefs. On paper, this seems like a likely blowout win for the Steelers, who are 5-3. The Chiefs have but one win to their names this season, are rife with problems on both offense and defense and in the last four weeks have not managed to score more than 16 points in a single game.
That doesn't mean the Steelers are guaranteed a win, however. One moment of underestimation can serve to unravel the three-game winning streak Pittsburgh has put together and severely damage their postseason hopes.
Here's a game plan for the Steelers that should help prevent them from falling into a trap game and losing at home on Monday night.
Keep on Running the Ball
In the past three weeks, both Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman have put up 100 or more rushing yards per game. Dwyer earned the first two, and then Redman last week, when he returned from an ankle injury and Dwyer nursed a quad problem. Now that both are healthy, it appears the Steelers are going with a "hot hand" approach with the two backs, and though Redman will likely be named the starter, that doesn't necessarily mean that Dwyer's carries will be significantly limited.
Considering the numerous problems the Chiefs are having keeping teams from putting up both points and yards, the Steelers should be able to run the ball often and well, especially if they come out of the gate looking like the team they've been over the previous three weeks.
In five games this season (all losses) the Chiefs have allowed opponents to score 30 or more points and are giving up an average of 347.5 yards per game. They are particularly weak against the run, allowing 126 yards per game, ranking 23rd overall. The Steelers can set up their scoring with the run, and then keep running and maintain and extend their lead should they have one—and mind you, they should.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is having an excellent year, thanks to the playbook of new offensive coordinator Todd Haley (who was, lest we forget, the Chiefs head coach just a year ago). Passing will be integral to the Steelers' offensive game plan, just as it has been over the last three weeks in which their run game finally picked up steam. There's no reason for the Steelers to change their approach to the offense this week, except to note that the Chiefs are more vulnerable to the run and the Steelers ever-better at it.
Dwyer and Redman both being healthy presents excellent opportunities for the Steelers to get more creative with their runs. Each have similar strengths and weaknesses, but the element of surprise (more two-back sets) will allow them to catch the Chiefs off guard. Considering how poorly they've been defending the run as of late, the one-two, Dwyer-Redman punch could pose some very serious problems for Kansas City's defense.
Past Performance Does Not Indicate Future (Defensive) Results
The Chiefs are a mess. They may even be the very worst team in the NFL. But that doesn't mean they lack weapons, specifically running back Jamaal Charles. If the Steelers do not approach Charles as the high-caliber rushing talent he is, they'll be in trouble.
Charles is the ninth-leading rusher in the league at present, with 634 yards on 132 carries and a 4.8 yards per carry average. He has just two touchdowns, however. Charles is a yard-getter, not a points-scorer and he doesn't smash through defenders on the goal line.
Though the Chiefs aren't all that adept at putting up points, good running by Charles makes it easier for them to score. Keeping him contained is the No. 1 way the Steelers can keep the Chiefs from moving down the field and getting anywhere close to putting up enough points to win.
The Steelers currently lead the league in total defense and rank seventh against the run, giving up an average of 88.6 rushing yards per game. They allowed the New York Giants just 68 rushing yards last week and the Washington Redskins 86 the week before that, despite the Redskins having Alfred Morris, the league's fourth-best rusher.
But just because they were strong against the run in these previous two games and throughout much of the season, it doesn't automatically mean that Charles is going to have a poor day. While there's more than just Charles for the Steelers defense to concern themselves with, the back must be their top priority. Dwayne Bowe and Matt Cassell are also due for big games.
The Steelers cannot simply assume that the Chiefs won't know what to do if they get into scoring position—they must prevent them from ever getting there. A weak opponent is no reason for the Steelers defense to let up. It's obvious Kansas City will need Charles' talents and the Steelers need to make them pay for being so transparently one dimensional.
Every Chiefs converted first down should be one too many for Pittsburgh's defense this week. What's the point of defeating the defending Super Bowl champs if the Steelers cannot handle a team they should beat in the following week?